After the Covid pandemic, tourism is recovering. Vietnam has become a popular destination for travelers to Asia. Thailand remains ahead for the time being.
Vietnam has quickly become one of the most popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia. The impressive variety of landscapes, from beaches to mountainous rice terraces, as well as the lively cities fascinate many tourists. According to a report by Google Destination Insights, Vietnam ranked seventh among the most searched travel destinations worldwide from March to June 2023 and was the only country in Southeast Asia to make the top 20.
Vietnam’s popularity is also reflected in international arrivals. The National Tourism Authority of Vietnam announced that the country has already welcomed more than 5.5 million foreign visitors in the first six months of 2023. This number already surpasses the total number of international arrivals in 2022.
The forecasts for tourist growth in Vietnam look promising. The Vietnam Tourism Bureau originally aimed for a target of 8 million visitors for the remainder of 2023, but now estimates that number is likely to rise to 10 million. Bobby Nguyen, chairman of travel agency Rustic Hospitality Group, told DW that the increase was mainly due to Chinese, Indian and Korean tourists. “China has reopened the market for outbound travel to Vietnam and the Indian market has been growing since 2022,” says the tourism entrepreneur.
Nguyen also points out that the use of social media and the influence of large tour groups have helped boost Vietnam’s international popularity. “Online communication channels such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and advertising channels on Google and other networks are the fastest way to promote Vietnam’s image in the world,” he says as reasons for the new trend.
Vietnam’s improved visa policy
Hanoi will also soon introduce new visa rules for international visitors. The visa-free period for selected countries will be increased from 15 to 45 days and thus tripled. For visitors from countries eligible to apply for an eVisa to Vietnam, the visas are now valid for up to 90 days with single or multiple entries. The changes will take effect on August 15.
Gary Bowerman, a tourism expert based in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, expects the visa changes to boost the tourism sector. “Things are looking up, and over the next six months you will see an increase in travelers to Vietnam. I think he will be very strong, especially now that the Chinese market is back,” he told DW.
A travel argument for Vietnam is that it’s a lesser-known destination and offers both tourism and business opportunities, Bowerman explains. “Many younger people now want to find out more about the country. Thailand is probably better known. However, Vietnam has an air of discovery and mysticism about it. And it’s the country where people want to invest and do business and where they want to travel,” he adds.
Vietnam’s travel industry is looking ahead
For Vietnamese travel companies, the new visa policy offers the prospect of more international entries. “I’m excited to see what happens,” says Max Lambert, owner of Fuse Hostels & Travel. Fuse opened two hostels in the popular town of Hoi An late last year.
He’s already confident his business can return to pre-pandemic levels. “In the last three months we have seen a significant increase in international guests in our hostels,” he told DW, adding that bookings are now back to 2019 levels. He is optimistic: “I think our market segment has pretty much overcome the hangover of the COVID pandemic.”
Thailand remains in first place
However, the number of travelers to Vietnam is still well below pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, Vietnam welcomed almost 19 million foreign visitors. This also means that Vietnam still has a long way to go to be able to keep up with tourism in Thailand, explains Lambert. “Thailand is still seeing stronger growth. Thailand is the main player in the region and it will take time for Vietnam to reach that level.”
Tourism entrepreneur Nguyen stresses that Vietnam needs to make improvements in several areas in order to realize its full potential. “Tourism is an integrated industry where there needs to be close coordination between ministries and sectors,” is how he describes the framework. “But the infrastructure, including highways, railways and roads, does not meet the needs of tourism development.”
“There is a need to retrain and train staff in the tourism industry in order to improve the quality of tourist services,” he adds. Thailand expects to welcome around 20 million visitors by the end of 2023. However, Thailand’s tourism industry is aiming to regain 2019 levels with a record 39 million international arrivals.
“Thailand has reclaimed its place as the most visited country in the region and remains a dominant tourism nation. That won’t change. Tourism in Thailand is doing well,” says analyst Bowerman. “However, before the pandemic, Vietnam was not necessarily seen as a competitor, but rather as a country with a lot of potential. Vietnam has been seen as the next big thing in tourism in Southeast Asia. I think it still is.”